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Senior Centers Open With Safety Rules In Place

by Lynn Kutter | April 14, 2021 at 5:28 a.m.

PRAIRIE GROVE -- Senior centers in Prairie Grove and Lincoln opened their doors to visitors Monday for the first time in more than year.

"I'm excited for our seniors," said Linda Willke, director of Prairie Senior Activity and Wellness Center. "It's been a trial and tribulation for everybody. This was their playground. They enjoyed coming here, visiting and having fun."

Farmington Senior Activity and Wellness Center will open to patrons on April 26, said Angie Dunlap, director of senior services for Area Agency on Aging of Northwest Arkansas.

Farmington has two positions open, center director and food service manager. Tina Batlle, who had served as center director for more than five years, resigned March 31.

Dunlap said since Farmington is short on staff, she wants to wait a few weeks before opening that center for inside dining. It will continue to provide curbside meals. For now, Dunlap, whose office is in Harrison, has stepped in to serve as director and food service manager.

Area Agency on Aging initially closed all senior centers in Northwest Arkansas to the public and suspended all activities for two weeks in mid-March 2020, because of the covid-19 pandemic.

Facilities have remained closed since then because of coronavirus concerns. However, centers have continued to serve senior adults with curbside pickup for meals Monday-Friday, and by delivering meals to homebound seniors.

Dunlap said the decision to reopen centers in Washington County was made because covid-19 cases in Northwest Arkansas are staying consistently low and the number of vaccinations is increasing.

The agency issued a four-page document that outlines safety policies for opening up the facilities. Senior centers will have limited capacity, social distancing and limited hours because of covid-19. Masks will be required inside the center, except while eating.

Dunlap said she believes these safety protocols will remain in place for a while.

"First and foremost, we are a nutrition program," Dunlap said. "We're trying to feed as many as we can as safely as we can."

If staff members are exposed to covid-19 or test positive, that means they would have to quarantine and the facility would have to close, Dunlap said, adding it's important centers continue to provide meals to those seniors who depend on this service.

Willke said Prairie Grove will have 10 tables spread out over the center, and seniors will be able to sit together to eat in certain situations, such as married couples, those who have been dating this year, or others who have been together for activities. Willke said she has several seniors who have been playing cards together throughout the past year.

Robyn Walters, Lincoln center director, said her capacity is 40 people, and she does not believe she will have a problem with her capacity and social distancing. Lincoln usually has fewer than 40 people, except for special activities, such as bingo, Walters said.

"We're ready," Walters said. "I have a great staff."

Senior centers will continue to provide curbside meals for those seniors who do not feel comfortable coming into congregate settings.

The regulations note that a center's seating layout and building capacity limit must be approved by the agency. Employees and staff are required to wear face coverings while clients are in the building, and any staff preparing food is required to wear a face mask.

The centers are asking seniors to make reservations for inside dining. Center staff will take the temperature of clients as they enter the building each day. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 or higher will not be allowed to stay.

Tables are to be six feet apart and patrons will need to social distance as much as possible. In addition, the centers will not be allowed to use communal coffee pots, drink dispensers or salt and pepper shakers. Salt and pepper packets will be provided, and centers may have volunteers to assist serving.

Senior centers will be able to host social activities, like bingo, live music and dancing, with safety protocols in place. For example, patrons can remove their masks for exercise or fitness classes but must remain six feet apart from others. Two-person dancing is not acceptable at this time but line-dancing will be acceptable with social distancing.

A band must be 12 feet away from the audience, and band members must wear masks while performing, with the exception of the singer.

The policy also has safety regulations in place for transportation, which include a mask mandate, sanitizing vehicles on a regular basis and social distancing as much as possible.


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